CHAMPAIGN — It was an emotional Day 2 at Roger Ebert's Film Festival.
Not in a bad way, of course, but emotional in the way that families can be when they come together and embrace each other, while at the same time, share a tear or two, as well as a smile, for those loved ones no longer with them.
It can choke a person up — which was the reaction of more than one festival guest after Thursday afternoon's showing of director Jonathan Demme's 2008 film "Rachel Getting Married" — from host Chaz Ebert to filmmakers and special guests Michael Barker and Stephen Apkon.
Part of the film's emotional impact, of course, is because it is one of the last films made by Demme before his death in April 2017, and as both Barker and Apkon pointed out, it was one of his most personal, cast with family and friends — from Demme's son, Brooklyn, playing guitar in the opening scene to the director's black poodle, Olive, seeking out a little affection from the title bride in the final shot.
But even more impactful to Thursday's audience was the film's focus on extended family, coming together to celebrate life even while struggling to come to grips with grief and heartache.
The theme of Ebertfest as a family event was shared by Chaz Ebert, who told the Virginia Theatre audience before the film that while hearing herself quoted in the newspaper occasionally takes her aback (because "I'm just an in-the-moment kind of person" and not always thinking about how she sounds), "I think of you as my family, so if I fall, you're going to be there to catch me. You're my safety net."
Barker, who as co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics released "Rachel Getting Married," added another perspective to the parallels between the family wedding in the film and Ebertfest, now in its 21st year.
Noting the number of festival favorites who have passed away in recent years, from actor Scott Wilson to whom this year's festival is dedicated, to Roger Ebert himself, Barker pointed out that the festival also offers a therapeutic benefit to those who attend year after year.
"What is amazing about this festival," Barker said in introducing his late friend's movie, "is we're dealing with grief as a celebration for these people that have passed away. And I think there is no other event like it ... And I will come here as long as you invite me. There's just no question."
The "extended family" theme got a significant boost during the Q&A session of the film when the film's screenwriter, Jenny Lumet, joined the conversation via telephone. Barker introduced her as the daughter of director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of singer-actress Lena Horne, and Lumet laughingly added her own children to the mix, saying she wanted them to hear what was being said about her "because they think I'm really uncool."